Monday 19 January 2009

YouTube Bit Me! (But I Deserved It)

I've gotten away with it so far but now, technology is catching up with me.

I got the following email from YouTube today:
Dear Candy Gourlay,

Your video, Why Writers Need Agents, may have content that is owned or licensed by WMG.

No action is required on your part; however, if you're interested in learning how this affects your video, please visit the Content ID Matches section of your account for more information.


- The YouTube Team
Readers of Notes from the Slushpile will have seen this film I made with the kids on my street, to a soundtrack that included some blues guitar from Ry Cooder. I was rather spooked by the statement 'no action is required on your part' so I went straight to the video and had a look.

YouTube had solved the copyright violation problem by turning off the sound of my video. Next to the video a button appeared, offering to "Swap Audio". Thinking that some audio was better than none, I clicked the button and followed the wizards. Now the video now boasts a totally mismatched bit royalty- free blues soundtrack.

I was totally guilty as accused of course. I knew what I was doing. I'd even read the YouTube notices.
  • It doesn't matter how long or short the clip is, or exactly how it got to YouTube. If you taped it off cable, videotaped your TV screen, or downloaded it from another website, it is still copyrighted, and requires the copyright owner's permission to distribute.
  • It doesn't matter whether or not you give credit to the owner/author/songwriter—it is still copyrighted.
  • It doesn't matter that you are not selling the video for money—it is still copyrighted.
  • It doesn't matter whether or not the video contains a copyright notice—it is still copyrighted.
  • It doesn't matter whether other similar videos appear on our site—it is still copyrighted.
  • It doesn't matter if you created a video made of short clips of copyrighted content—even though you edited it together, the content is still copyrighted.
But of course I thought to myself, surely, in the vast scheme of YouTube video-dom, my itty bitty film was not going to attract any attention?

Not that I was unwilling to pay some kind of license to use lovely music for my little videos. But how?

I bought a book called Podcast Solutions:The Complete Guide to Audio & Video Podcasting 2nd Edition (I like reading manuals). The chapter on using music in podcasts opens thus:
Welcome to the minefield.
Apparently using music is not just a matter of one payment. You have to pay the writer of the song (composer's rights are handled by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), the performer (record labels), and the owner of the master recording (or mechanical rights handled by the Harry Fox Agency). That's a lot of people to pay for a bit of fun.

The podcast book says:
Your best bet is to find music anywhere else but in your CD collection, unless of course your CD collection is made up only of independent artists who would be willing to grant you all rights to use their music ...
YouTube has not quite taken things to the level of the fingerprinting technology that MySpace uses to police its pages. But it's getting there. And giant media owners like Viacom spend zillions paying people to scour YouTube 24/7 for violations of their copyright.

I once was involved in the making of a radio programme for Radio 4. We were discussing adding some background music. I wanted to use some obscure Filipino pop music and asked my producer if there would be any copyright problem doing so. "Oh no," she said. "The BBC pays some kind of license that covers all that."

How I wish YouTube would charge us users "some kind of license that would cover all that". I would gladly pay.

The point really of talking about videos in this blog about children's books is that we are in the midst of a massive digital revolution in which conventional notions of copyright and royalty demand redefinition. The music and film industry have been struggling to define the terms of this new relationship that people (like me) have with media.

We are no longer just consumers, we want to become creators too.

What lies ahead for the book industry, late as usual, inching its way into the digital world?


  1. Oh, no - it's so easy to forget about the copyright issue. You're right - totally mismatched music now on your video. Can't your boys record some original guitar music for it. They're brilliant!

    I was going to post a youtube video of a 1950's tv programme the other day and I got twitchy about the copyright situation.
    Now I think I'd better remove the one I've added to my blog today!

    Isn't youtube made up of countless copyright violations?

  2. National Wildflower Centre22 January 2009 at 14:49

    I want to add some music to my website and really like Les Baxtor's exotica stuff. Luckily my boyfriend is a musician so I've asked him to 'compose' a pirate' piece of music for me.

  3. Best you get yourself a guitar, a piano and a drumset and start creating your own music.

    I used to work for a coporate producing and directing training and marketing videos - we had to buy rights to "muzak" to use in our programmes, fill in mountains of paperwork annually, log all the tracks we used - it's a real pain, but I guess, as writers we'd also hate the idea of people filching our words. As you say, there has to be a way round it - a pay as you go library system - some sites do offer something like that, I think.


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